Words and visuals: Commemorating 70 years of ‘Ajj aakhan Waris Shah nu’ | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Words and visuals: Commemorating 70 years of ‘Ajj aakhan Waris Shah nu’

As this immortal poem moves into its 70th year, Chandigarh painter Kavita Singh has brought it alive in paintings and drawings encased in a book along with the text of the poem both in original and the Khushwant translation

punjab Updated: Aug 01, 2017 09:16 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Celebrated poet Amrita Pritam in her youth.
Celebrated poet Amrita Pritam in her youth.

The pain of Partition had struck dumb poets in both India and Pakistan. However, a few months after a young “refugee” mother, travelling in the dark of the night from Dehradun to Delhi in search of work, was able to collect her bearings and pen some lines on the tragedy that she had witnessed. She was none other than celebrated poet Amrita Pritam, then only 28, and the poem was “Ajj akhan Waris Shah nu”.

Drawings incased in a book along with the text of the poem both in original and as in Khushwant Singh’s translation. (HT Photo)

A prolific writer of poetry and prose, yet this one poem was to immortalise her as it went straight to the torn hearts of the people affected by the tragic and brutal divide.

Even cynical litterateur Khushwant Singh, who was the first to translate this poignant plea to Waris Shah (1722-98), the Sufi poet who had written the ballad of Punjab’s lovelorn heroine Heer, said: “Those few lines she composed made her immortal, in India and Pakistan”.

As this immortal poem moves into its 70th year, Chandigarh painter Kavita Singh has brought it alive in paintings and drawings encased in a book along with the text of the poem both in original and the Khushwant translation. It is an inspired collection of 28 works in which the words and visuals come together.

What inspired her to take up this particular poem for the base of her art? Kavita says: “I had first heard lines of the poem from my grandmother who had migrated with her family from Lahore to Shimla and would often talk about the horrors of communal violence or ‘rauley’ as she called them.” The painter says later she read Amrita’s poetry and was drawn to it and more so to the Partition poem, but it took her a long time to translate the poem into visuals.

Painter Kavita Singh has brought immortal poems alive in the paintings. (HT Photo)

Kavita adds: “So heartrending was Amrita’s cry in her Ode to Waris Shah that she earned the title of ‘The Voice of Punjab’. By using the love legends of Sufi poets, Amrita evokes a cultural identity that questions the very historicity of the Partition.”

The poem also decries the violence against women in the communal riots at the time of the Partition when the warring communities abducted, raped, tortured, sold or forced to convert their religion. Amrita addressed Waris who had penned the tragic love story of the folk heroine Heer and cried out in anguish to him to rise from his grave and look at his changed Punjab where thousands of brutalised women were looking up to him for empathy when all hope was lost from the living.

Kavita plans to exhibit her art works at an exhibition here in November. Incidentally, the poem was also written on a dark and hapless night after seeing misery, death, displacement and more. “The poet rose from her losses to give inspiration to many to live and fight for what is just,” says Kavita whose art has made an effort to capture the power of the words at times realistically and other times in abstraction.